Sam Shepard, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Oscar-nominated actor, dies at 73

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Sam Shepard, the experimentalist cowboy-style poet who became one of the most significant American playwrights of the 20th century, honored with the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for drama for his play “Buried Child” and with an Oscar nomination for his acting role as aviator Chuck Yeager in the 1983 film “The Right Stuff,” died July 27 at his farm in Kentucky. He was 73.

A family spokesman, Chris Boneau, confirmed his death and said the cause was complications from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Mr. Shepard came of age in the 1960s, as alternative experimentation transformed the theater scene. In his theatrical works both poetic and mythical, he explored the intersections of an unruly American West and the deep complexities of the fracturing American family.

His best-known plays — including “True West” (1980, about two warring brothers), “Fool for Love” (1983, about a tortured romance) and “A Lie of the Mind” (1985, about a battered woman psychologically tethered to a man) — were packed with physical fights and lyrical, sometimes inscrutable monologues. The visceral power and intriguing subtext of his plays made him a staple on the country’s stages through the 1970s and well into the 1990s.

Mr. Shepard’s output, and his standing as a pivotal theatrical force, declined in the new century, though he continued to act, direct and write. His 2004 “The God of Hell” directly took aim at U.S. policy on torture, with a mysterious governmental agent sending electric current through a suspect as American flags proliferated on the stage.

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Sam Shepard on Working With Dylan, Why Jim Morrison Has No Sense of Humor

 

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The RollingStone Interview

Theater critic Michael Feingold once remarked that the paradox of Sam Shepard consisted in his having “the mind of a Kafka trapped in the body of a Jimmy Stewart.”

Sam Shepard, Actor and Playwright, Dead at 73

Pulitizer Prize for Drama winner dies after battle with ALS

 

It was Franz Kafka who wrote that “a book must be the ax for the frozen sea in us.” And in the more than 40 plays that Sam Shepard has written since 1964, this American playwright has been breaking open that frozen sea with an originality of vision, a jolting intermingling of humor and grief, a profound examination of the hopes and failures of the American family and an astonishing ear for the cadences of the American idiom. With plays like The Unseen Hand, Curse of the Starving Class, Buried Child (for which he won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize), True West, Fool for Love and the recent A Lie of the Mind, Shepard has cloaked himself in the mantle once worn by Eugene O’Neill and Tennessee Williams.

This Franz Kafka with a lariat, this desert-haunted cowboy-stranger, has also, as an actor, attained the popularity of matinee idols such as Jimmy Stewart and Gary Cooper. With his lean, Sam Shepard lanky, cleft-chinned, high-cheekboned, snaggletoothed, blue-eyed good looks, Sam Shepard has been a magnetic presence in films such as Days of Heaven, Resurrection, Frances, The Right Stuff, Country and Fool for Love.In the words of The Right Stuff‘s director, Phil Kaufman, “[Shepard] has a quality that is so rare now – you don’t see it in the streets much, let alone in the movies – a kind of bygone quality of the Forties, when guys could wear leather jackets and be laconic and still say a lot without verbally saying anything.”

Born Samuel Shepard Rogers III on November 5th, 1943, in Fort Sheridan, Illinois, Shepard was an Army brat whose family was stationed for various periods in South Dakota, Utah, Florida and Guam and finally settled down on an avocado ranch in Duarte, California – an end-of-the-road valley town east of Los Angeles. At 19, he left his family and came to New York City as an aspiring actor and musician, started writing his superenergized, music-driven early plays, eventually moved to London with his actress-wife, O-Lan, and son, Jesse, then returned to northern California. He now lives on a farm in Virginia with actress Jessica Lange (with whom he appears in the film version of Beth Henley’s play Crimes of the Heart, directed by Bruce Beresford) and their daughter, Hannah, and Jessica’s daughter, Alexandra. Like Bob Dylan, whom he resembles in many ways, Sam Shepard is an intensely private person who shies away from journalists, preferring to allow transformed glimpses of himself to appear in his plays and in books like Hawk Moon and the wonderful Motel Chronicles – collections of poems-meditations-dreams-journals-visions. (Don Shewey’s recent biography, Sam Shepard, gives an insightful view of the playwright’s life and particularly of his complicated, shattered relationship with his alcoholic father.)

In conversation, Sam Shepard is happy to speak directly about things that concern him and indirectly about issues of superficial or only “personal” importance. With an undeniably engaging blue-eyed squint and a kind of Western-swing twang to his voice, he continually displays an unnerving, surprising and charmingly boyish sense of humor. But most disarming of all is the way he unhesitatingly confronts, explores and clarifies the most painful and sorrowful of matters – loss, separation, disillusionment, powerlessness, weakness, fear, lies.

In his most recent play, A Lie of the Mind, Sam Shepard has made his most fearless, controlled and deep penetration into the realm of the American psyche. For in this story of two American families – with its revelations and reconciliations of the relationships between and among a violent son, his battered wife and his angelic brother – the playwright shows how personal and social dreams and lies are one and the same, creating, as he once said Bob Dylan created, “a mythic atmosphere out of the land around us. The land we walk on every day and never see until someone shows it to us.”

It was in an old-fashioned, unassuming drugstore on Carton Drive in Beverly Hills, California – one of Shepard’s favorite “reading” haunts – and in the tearoom of the Chateau Marmont Hotel, in Hollywood, that the following interview took place earlier this year.

THE INTERVIEW

 

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He would call me late in the night from somewhere on the road, a ghost town in Texas, a rest stop near Pittsburgh, or from Santa Fe, where he was parked in the desert, listening to the coyotes howling. But most often he would call from his place in Kentucky, on a cold, still night, when one could hear the stars breathing. Just a late-night phone call out of a blue, as startling as a canvas by Yves Klein; a blue to get lost in, a blue that might lead anywhere. I’d happily awake, stir up some Nescafé and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.

“Gogol was Ukrainian,” he once said, seemingly out of nowhere. Only not just any nowhere, but a sliver of a many-faceted nowhere that, when lifted in a certain light, became a somewhere. I’d pick up the thread, and we’d improvise into dawn, like two beat-up tenor saxophones, exchanging riffs.

He sent a message from the mountains of Bolivia, where Mateo Gil was shooting “Blackthorn.” The air was thin up there in the Andes, but he navigated it fine, outlasting, and surely outriding, the younger fellows, saddling up no fewer than five different horses. He said that he would bring me back a serape, a black one with rust-colored stripes. He sang in those mountains by a bonfire, old songs written by broken men in love with their own vanishing nature. Wrapped in blankets, he slept under the stars, adrift on Magellanic Clouds.

Sam liked being on the move. He’d throw a fishing rod or an old acoustic guitar in the back seat of his truck, maybe take a dog, but for sure a notebook, and a pen, and a pile of books. He liked packing up and leaving just like that, going west. He liked getting a role that would take him somewhere he really didn’t want to be, but where he would wind up taking in its strangeness; lonely fodder for future work.

In the winter of 2012, we met up in Dublin, where he received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from Trinity College. He was often embarrassed by accolades but embraced this one, coming from the same institution where Samuel Beckett walked and studied. He loved Beckett, and had a few pieces of writing, in Beckett’s own hand, framed in the kitchen, along with pictures of his kids. That day, we saw the typewriter of John Millington Synge and James Joyce’s spectacles, and, in the night, we joined musicians at Sam’s favorite local pub, the Cobblestone, on the other side of the river. As we playfully staggered across the bridge, he recited reams of Beckett off the top of his head.

Sam promised me that one day he’d show me the landscape of the Southwest, for though well-travelled, I’d not seen much of our own country. But Sam was dealt a whole other hand, stricken with a debilitating affliction. He eventually stopped picking up and leaving. From then on, I visited him, and we read and talked, but mostly we worked. Laboring over his last manuscript, he courageously summoned a reservoir of mental stamina, facing each challenge that fate apportioned him. His hand, with a crescent moon tattooed between his thumb and forefinger, rested on the table before him. The tattoo was a souvenir from our younger days, mine a lightning bolt on the left knee.

Going over a passage describing the Western landscape, he suddenly looked up and said, “I’m sorry I can’t take you there.” I just smiled, for somehow he had already done just that. Without a word, eyes closed, we tramped through the American desert that rolled out a carpet of many colors—saffron dust, then russet, even the color of green glass, golden greens, and then, suddenly, an almost inhuman blue. Blue sand, I said, filled with wonder. Blue everything, he said, and the songs we sang had a color of their own.

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Chinese Nobel Peace Laureate And Human Rights Advocate Liu Xiaobo Dies

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A chair sat empty for Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo in Oslo, Norway, in 2010. The rights activist was imprisoned in China in 2009.

Heiko Junge/AFP/Getty Images

Prominent dissident Liu Xiaobo, the only Chinese citizen to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize while still residing in China, has died at age 61. Liu died Thursday while on medical parole in northeastern China’s Shenyang city, where he was being treated for liver cancer. He was serving an 11-year prison sentence for trying to overthrow the government.

By the time Liu, a scholar and human rights advocate, was diagnosed in late May, his liver cancer was already in its late stages. Chinese authorities released video footage intended to show that Liu had been receiving good medical care, and they invited U.S. and German doctors to treat him. But Beijing rejected calls to allow him to seek treatment overseas.

Liu’s biographer and friend, the U.S.-based dissident Yu Jie, believes that China’s government had a motive to withhold or delay treatment: It feared the consequences of Liu getting out of prison alive.

In that case, Yu says, “he would [have] become a standard-bearer for China’s democratization and civil society.”

Liu was born in 1955 in northeastern China’s Changchun city, a center of heavy industry. He spent his teenage years in the countryside during the 1966 to 1976 Cultural Revolution and was admitted to college in 1977, as universities reopened following the decade of chaos.

In 1988, Liu received his doctorate in literature from Beijing Normal University, and he stayed on to work as a lecturer and literary critic.

“He was known then as a rebel, the black horse of the literary scene,” says Perry Link,a China scholar at Princeton and the University of California, Riverside who has translated Liu’s works into English. “And he took on just about everybody else and made fun of them and debunked them.”

Yu says Liu was especially good at debunking Chinese intellectuals who claimed to be liberals. “He perceptively discovered and criticized traces of the Communist Party’s education and brainwashing in them,” he says.

When the Tiananmen Square democracy movement broke out in 1989, Liu flew back to Beijing from New York, where he was a visiting scholar at Columbia University.

Along with three other protest leaders, Liu led a hunger strike in the heart of the square. Its aim, he said, was to compel both the government and the student protesters to reflect on their own behavior.

 

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Kiitella’s “10.5 Years In Suite 102” Party

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COME ON OVER!

Pisco Sours shaken and served by Rōber’ & Gregory
Small foodthings
& Mountain Girl Gallery next door is having an Open Gallery Evening

Wednesday June 28, 5-7

~ Please bring anything ~

Lisa

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Lisa Issenberg artist.owner
ridgway, colorado 970.626.3399
lisa@kiitella.com http://www.kiitella.com

Zen and the Art of the World’s Deadliest Motorcycle Race By Stephen Phelan ~ The New Yorker

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The English racer Geoff Duke at the Isle of Man T.T. races in 1955. Hundreds of competitors have died on the circuit.

Photograph by Hulton Archive / Getty

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On the morning of June 7th, several spectators gathered by the side of a narrow country road in Ballig, on the Isle of Man, to witness the third full day of the Tourist Trophy—a weeklong series of motorcycle races held each year on this bumpy, grassy rock in the middle of the Irish Sea. They waited quietly, listening for engine noise amid the birdsong and the murmuring of a nearby stream. Suddenly, a high-performance bike blasted past, at such concussive velocity that it might have been a missile. First-timers winced and recoiled. “Who was that?” someone asked. More riders followed, fearsomely fast and loud, at intervals of a few seconds. Some were recognizable by their racing colors, others by their distinctive riding styles. Brian Coole, a local T.T. enthusiast, spoke familiarly about two of the year’s big rivals, Ian Hutchinson and Michael Dunlop. “Hutchy guides the bike; Dunlop wrangles it,” he said.

There had already been several changes to the 2017 lineup. Rider No. 5, the twenty-three-time T.T. winner John McGuinness, had been forced to withdraw after breaking his right leg, three ribs, and four vertebrae in a bad crash, at a qualifying event in mid-May. Also absent was rider No. 71, Davey Lambert, who had crashed nearby four days earlier. Lambert’s death was announced just before the event now in progress, a four-lap race of the Snaefell Mountain Course. The thirty-eight-mile circuit, on winding public roads, is often said to represent the Mt. Everest of motorsport—partly for its technical challenges, but mainly for its deadliness.

On the first lap, rider No. 63, Jochem van den Hoek, rocketed through Ballig on his Honda at more than a hundred and fifty miles per hour. Some twenty seconds later, turning through a tricky curve at the eleventh milestone, he came off the bike. His death was confirmed that afternoon, around the same time that No. 52, the Irishman Alan Bonner, had his own collision higher up the mountain. Bonner was also killed, bringing the historic death toll on this circuit, which has been in use since 1907, to two hundred and fifty-five, including thirty-two in the past decade. (That figure does not account for race officials and spectators hit by runaway bikes.) For the first twenty years of the contest, parts of the course remained open to public traffic; in 1927, a racer named Archie Birkin was killed as he swerved to avoid a fish truck.

To the casual observer, the T.T. may seem like madness incarnate. “Yeah, I hear that all the time, and it winds me up a bit,” Richard (Milky) Quayle, a former racer, told me at the grandstand in Douglas, the Manx capital. “You couldn’t do this if you were mad. It takes too much focus and discipline.” Quayle had known the two men killed that day, and resented any suggestion that competitors were careless. “Every rider out there is actually living their life, not wasting it like you see so many other people doing,” he said. One of the few native islanders ever to win a podium place in the tournament, Quayle was now a chief adviser on the T.T. circuit, talking newcomers through the treacherous geometry of the Snaefell and assessing their readiness to ride it. He knew the dangers firsthand, having clipped a stone wall with his shoulder, in 2003, resulting in a spectacular crash that later made him famous on YouTube. “I smashed myself to bits,” he said. He only quit the T.T. because, soon afterward, he had a son. “I wouldn’t be able to take those total-commitment corners at Ballagarey or Quarry Bends, knowing he was waiting for me to come back,” he told me. “I still ride fast bikes almost every day. But I do miss the racing. And without it, to be honest, I struggle with life.”

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Alfred E. Newman/Jeff Sessions Ravaged by Amnesia Somehow Able to Hold Down Demanding Legal Job

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NYT editorial

How many ways are there to fail to answer a question under oath?

Ask Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The last time Mr. Sessions appeared before a Senate committee, during his confirmation hearing in January, he gave false testimony.

“I did not have communications with the Russians,” Mr. Sessions said in response to a question no one asked — and despite the fact that he had, in fact, met with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, at least twice during the 2016 presidential campaign. The omission raised questions not only about his honesty, but also about why he would not disclose those meetings in the first place.

On Tuesday Mr. Sessions returned to answer questions from the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating Russian sabotage of the 2016 election and the Trump campaign’s possible ties to those efforts.

That was the plan, anyway. In fact — and to the great consternation of the Democratic members of the committee, at least — Mr. Sessions was not on board. He arrived in full body armor, testy and sometimes raising his voice to defend what he called his honor against “scurrilous and false allegations” that he had colluded with Moscow.

He also defended his misstatements in January, to the Judiciary Committee, as being taken out of context, and he lowered a broad cone of silence around all his communications with President Trump regarding last month’s firing of James Comey as F.B.I. director, claiming it was “inappropriate” for him to discuss them. Did they involve classified information? No. Was he invoking executive privilege? No, he said, only the president may invoke that. Reminded that Mr. Trump has not done so, he said, “I’m protecting the right of the president to assert it if he chooses.”

In lieu of a real excuse, he cited a longstanding policy at the Justice Department — although he couldn’t confirm that it existed in writing or that, if it did, he had actually read it. In other words, Mr. Sessions has no intention to answer any of those questions now or in the future.

Senator Martin Heinrich, Democrat of New Mexico, angrily accused Mr. Sessions of “impeding this investigation” by refusing to respond, but perhaps the attorney general was wise to keep his mouth shut. When he opened it, he often seemed to contradict himself, his staff at the Justice Department, or the president.

The most glaring example was his claim that the letter he wrote supporting Mr. Comey’s dismissal was based on the former director’s missteps in the bureau’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server — even though Mr. Trump himself had almost immediately blown that cover, telling a national television audience that he had the Russia investigation in mind when he decided to fire Mr. Comey.

Mr. Sessions’s explanation would’ve been impossible to swallow anyway, since he, like Mr. Trump, had originally praised Mr. Comey’s actions in the Clinton investigation.

The attorney general also had a strange reaction to Mr. Comey’s plea that he not be left alone with the president again. By his own account, Mr. Sessions seemed less concerned with the president’s highly unusual and inappropriate behavior than he was with Mr. Comey, telling him “that the F.B.I. and the Department of Justice needed to be careful to follow department policies regarding appropriate contacts with the White House.”

So here are a few more questions that Mr. Sessions should answer, but probably won’t.

Why did he not resist when Mr. Trump asked him and others to leave the Oval Office so he could have a private conversation with Mr. Comey? At the very least, why did he not take steps to find out what had happened?

Why does he believe he did not violate the terms of his recusal by taking part in Mr. Comey’s firing? His recusal extended, in his own words, to “any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for president of the United States” — which clearly includes the Clinton email investigation.

If his recusal was truly based, as he claimed, on his closeness to the Trump campaign, why not announce it immediately upon his confirmation, rather than wait weeks, until after news of his undisclosed meetings with Mr. Kislyak broke?

And perhaps most pressing: Why, since he agreed with the committee that Russian interference in the election represents a profoundly serious attack on American democracy, has Mr. Sessions never received or read any detailed briefing on that operation?